by MIKE NICHOLSON
If it’s true that the Australian economy has hit the skids and my industry (media) is dying, then why am I championing unpaid work? That’s because I’m talking about giving my time away to volunteer organisations that thrive on unpaid workers for their good causes.
This week marks National Volunteer Week in Australia and what better time to put your volunteer hat on and get involved.
My first experience with volunteering came six years ago when I signed up to be a part of a community radio station. However, I always consider this time as self-serving, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in recent years I have found a better, more selfless use of my free time.
Two years ago I was in an enviable, albeit bank balance poor, position with few university contact hours, in between jobs and a large amount of free time on my hands. For some reason helping out at a women’s and children’s hospital popped into my head, so I hit up Google and found a suitable location. (OK full disclosure, I had been binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy seasons to stem my unemployed boredom and was inspired – no regrets.)
At the time I felt that I had the ability to give my volunteer services to any organisation but felt that young males might be in short supply at a hospital for women and children. My decision was vindicated when I went to the information sessions and I was the only male in attendance. At the two Volunteer’s Christmas parties I’ve been to I brought the median age down by decades. That’s not to take anything away from the retirees at the hospital. The older generation volunteers are very important and give so much of their time, but I believe a balance of gender and age is also a must.
So there I was, a 24-year-old play therapist’s assistant. “What’s that?” you ask. “Sounds like a made up role…” you say. Well, the role of a play therapist is to act as the chief distractor of children who are spending days and weeks on end in an environment that no one would voluntarily (pardon the pun) choose to be in. I act as an assistant to the play therapist; wandering around the side rooms, checking in on patients and their families and playing copious amounts of games, making crafty things or having conversations with weary parents. It’s a pretty great role.
Some of my favourite experiences at the hospital include:
– Meeting a little girl who wants to be a palaeontologist but also a zookeeper or a lion. She was very knowledgeable on hypotheses too.
– Dancing my arse off at a winter disco with an army of partying patients and the Star Light Captains; those Captains are A-grade legends.
– The faces of parents when I offer them a few minutes of relief from being “trapped” in a hospital side room for days on end with children who are going stir crazy.